The Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Wednesday unanimously upheld a motion filed by two senior members of the main opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) challenging a ruling of the Court of Appeal with regards to the disputed March 2 regional and general elections in that country.
“It is important to bear in mind that this case is essentially about jurisdiction, about our jurisdiction, about the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal and even implications for the High Court’s exclusive jurisdictions under article 163 and other articles of the Constitution,” CCJ President Justice Adrian Saunders said.
The CCJ, the country’s highest court, last week heard the appeal filed by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and Irfaan Ali, the PPP/C presidential candidate seeking several reliefs, including an interpretation of the words ‘more votes are cast’ in Article 177(2)(b) of the Constitution of Guyana.
The Court of Appeal in its decision late last month ordered that the words are to be interpreted as meaning ‘more valid votes are cast’. The Court also ordered the decision be stayed for three days. The applicants, who were added as respondents before the Court of Appeal, claim that the decision was wrong for many reasons, including that the Court of Appeal did not have the jurisdiction to hear and determine the Notice of Motion.
Private citizen, Eslyn David, mounted her challenge before the appellate court pursuant to Article 177 (4) of the Constitution, which states “the Court of Appeal shall have exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine any question as to the validity of an election of a President in so far as the question depends upon the qualification of any person for election or the interpretation of this Constitution….”
The PPP/C has said it won the last elections based on the national recount that ended on June 9. But the ruling coalition, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) said that there were several irregularities and anomalies and wants the polls to be annulled.
In his 30 minutes summary of the ruling, Justice Saunders said that “the Court reminded itself that its jurisdiction had been invoked for the sole purpose of determining whether the Court of Appeal lacked jurisdiction to entertain Miss David’s application and to make the orders that it made.
‘Once we decided that the Court of Appeal order was made without jurisdiction and should therefore be set aside there was nothing left upon which this Court would possess jurisdiction to make any further consequential orders,” Justice Saunders said.
He said to accept the counsel suggestion that to proceed down that path “would be to engage in an exercise not dissimilar from the one embraced by the Court of Appeal’s majority and which we have issued”. Justice Saunders said it is now left to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to ensure that the chief elections officer Keith Lowenfield to submit a report “in accordance with his directive of 16th June in order to proceed along the path directed by the laws of Guyana.
‘As Guyana’s final court, the Court stated that it could not however in all the circumstances pretend to be oblivious to events that transpired in that country since December 2018. Indeed the Court had to pronounce on some of those events.
“It has been four months since the elections were held and the country has been without a Parliament for well over one year. No one in Guyana should consider this to be a satisfactory state of affairs. We express the fervent hope that there would quickly be a peaceable restoration of normalcy. Now the law must run its course,” he said, noting that the judgement of the Court was a “unanimous one”.